Like most Americans, Mackenzie Fegan grew up eating her weight in Campbell’s chicken noodle soup. But there was a twist, courtesy of her mother, who moved from China as a child.
“She would stir an egg into it with chopsticks and make a sort of egg drop soup mashup,” recalls the Brooklyn-based food writer, whose family opened the San Francisco institution Henry’s Hunan, once described by the New Yorker as the finest Chinese restaurant in the United States.
But the best seller at Henry’s Hunan isn’t Chinese—or, rather, it’s as Chinese as Campbell’s chicken-noodle egg drop soup is Chinese. Concocted by Fegan’s grandmother, “Diana’s Special” is a tour de force of shredded lettuce, white onions, and stir-fried ground pork, sandwiched between two deep-fried flour tortillas and liberally sprinkled with Parmesan cheese.
“It’s sort of like a Taco Bell Mexican pizza and sort of like an onion cake,” Fegan describes.
Priya Krishna, a regular Bon Appetit contributor, recognizes the culinary calisthenics Asian-American families employ. Her newly released book, Indian-ish: Recipes and Antics from a Modern American Family, is a paean to her mother, Ritu, who served up pizza on roti, saag paneer with feta cheese, and dahi toast with sourdough bread—in part, out of a desire for invention mixed with nostalgia, but also because she had to make do with what was available in this new country.
“It seems like an instinct for immigrants to seek flavors that are familiar but to use the ingredients they have on hand,” Krishna says. “My mom’s recipes are really unique but what she did is not.”
So would she consider this food, to use a term gourmands like to bandy about, “authentic”?